Let’s assume for a second that every single allegation in the Wells Report is true and that Tom Brady and the Patriots were involved in a conspiracy to deflate balls to Brady’s liking. I don’t necessarily believe that, and you may not either, but let’s just assume it for the purposes of this exercise. The Patriots only got a very small advantage on something (the firmness of the balls) that has a very small impact on the game. And when dealing with percentages, very small x very small = EXTREMELY small. Therefore, I contend that the following nine cheating scandals had a greater impact on the integrity of the game than Deflategate (once again, assuming it’s even true), while receiving FAR less media attention. Let’s count them down…
No 9: The Panthers Heating Balls on the Sideline During a Game
Okay, I admit this scandal may not have been worse than Deflategate, but the infraction is fairly similar and the reaction from the league (a warning during the game) was so minuscule that I decided to include it.
This quote is from former Bills financial advisor John Steven Moore. Fairly self-explanatory. Clearly had more of an identifiable effect on the game than Deflategate and it required a conspiracy to pull off.
In the pivotal and deciding Game 5 of the 1984 NBA Finals against the Lakers, Red Auerbach turned up the heat in Boston Garden without alerting the visiting Lakers. The result: a game played in 97 degree heat and Kareem sucking from an oxygen mask on the bench. Oh yeah, the Celtics also won the game in a blowout and eventually took the series. Maybe it’s just because I grew up in Boston, but I’ve never heard Red Auerbach roundly criticized for this outside of hardcore Laker fans. He’s actually celebrated for it. Hard to imagine Bill Belichick getting the same treatment.
This DID get a lot of media attention at the time, but not in comparison to the two-year saga that was Deflategate. Sosa was a juiced-up clown anyway, so whatever…but Belle was a star slugger on a great team that was the favorite to win the 1994 World Series before a strike ended the season. And a corked bat absolutely helps. Also, if the shenanigans described in the above video don’t constitute a conspiracy, I don’t know what does.
No 5: The Timberwolves and Joe Smith Coming to an Illegal, Off-the-Books Agreement
Done in 1999 to circumvent the salary cap, the Timberwolves got Smith to agree to a series of way under market one-year deals with a promise to sign him to a max extension once they had his Bird rights. It didn’t work out that way: the league caught wind of the arrangement before Smith could sign his extension, and although they hammered Minnesota, taking away five consecutive first round picks, no one else seemed to care very much. Putting aside the argument that the Patriots have partaken in somewhat similar behavior with regards to Tom Brady’s contract, the Timberwolves’ conduct was worse than Deflategate, and if anyone gave a shit about them, we still might remember it.
No 4: The Cardinals Hacking the Astros (and possibly vice versa)
Long story short: a bunch of Cardinals executives moved on to the Astros and Cardinals executive Chris Correa (who I’m guessing wasn’t acting alone) successfully guessed their passwords and used them to hack into the Astros amateur draft database over 50 times over the course of two and a half years. Correa (who claimed the Astros did it first) is currently in prison, serving 46 months of hard time (yes, you read that right) and the Cardinals were also docked two second round draft picks and fined $2 million. You could argue the Patriots’ punishment for Deflategate ($1 million, a first and fourth round pick, and Brady being suspended for four games) was worse (or at least equivalent) than the Cardinals punishment for the hacking. Obviously it was a big story and clearly Correa took it on the chin (did I mention he’s also banned from MLB for life?), but just imagine if Bill Belichick was caught doing something like this. ESPN and Twitter would simultaneously melt down…
Bill Polian has good reason to downplay the Falcons’ use of artificial crowd noise. Anyone who has ever watched any football game other than the Super Bowl can tell you that crowd noise matters. Just look at the Chiefs and Seahawks and the massive home field advantage they have thanks to their throaty supporters. Which is why it was a big deal when the Colts were revealed to have been pumping in crowd noise during the Peyton Manning era (as well as the Falcons in 2013 and 2014). Officially CBS took the blame, but there is evidence to suggest that the Colts were doing the dirt. Additionally, most NFL insiders will tell you it was common knowledge that the Colts generated artificial noise during this era.
The Colts were constantly competing for AFC and Super Bowl titles while Manning was the QB and their chances for success often came down to a handful of plays. Take the 2007 AFC Championship, when the Patriots were unable to convert a first down to put the game away, resulting in an epic Colts comeback (and eventual Super Bowl title). That game basically came down to a single play, and so did many others, and the ability to dial up deafening crowd noise at a moment’s notice was definitely a factor, whether you want to believe it or not.
The best receiver in NFL history, widely credited as having the best hands ever, admits to using stickum on his gloves to help him catch balls, all while crushing the Patriots for Deflategate. Move along, folks…nothing to see here. Oh, did I mention that Jerry Rice actually had ten drops in his first 11 games as a pro and was in danger of being benched at one point before turning it around? It kind of makes you wonder exactly what the catalyst was in that turnaround. Smart money says it comes in a can. If this story broke when he was still playing, it would probably be #1 on this list.
No 1: Broncos Cheating the Salary Cap in the Late 1990s
The details aren’t important. Actually they are, but they’re super boring, so I’ll sum them up quickly here: the Broncos basically pulled a Timberwolves/Joe Smith move, paying their star players like John Elway and Terrell Davis less than they were worth, in exchange for more money (plus interest) later, all in a successful effort to stay under the salary cap. They won two Super Bowls during this period, and the rest of the NFL was none the wiser. Eventually the NFL found out and cracked down on the team, docking them millions of dollars in fines and taking away multiple draft picks, but by that point no one in Denver really cared because they were too busy admiring their multiple Lombardi trophies. Al Davis firmly believed the Broncos wouldn’t have won those Super Bowls without violating the cap, and he was far from the only one to believe that.